‘all about maximizing corporate profit and is an assault on character and beauty of Rockland Harbor’

Sixteen citizens appeal state approval of Safe Harbor Marina expansion in Rockland Harbor

Fri, 01/14/2022 - 1:15pm

    ROCKLAND — A group of 16 Midcoast citizens objecting to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’ approval of marina expansion project in Rockland Harbor have appealed to the state’s Bureau of Environmental Protection to hear their concerns.

    “The expansion will, “impede enjoyment of and access to the harbor for recreational and navigational purposes,” they wrote, in their Jan. 7 appeal to the BEP.

    On Dec. 8, the DEP issued a Natural Resources Protection Act permit issued to SHM LLC, the company behind the large-scale dredging and construction project in Rockland Harbor. The permit allows SHM to expand an existing marina in Rockland’s South End with additional floats, pilings, and a pier expansion, and to dredge 3.2 acres of the subtidal coastal wetland. 

    In its NRPA permit, the DEP wrote that the dredging of 12,520 cubic yards harbor bottom in a 138,000 square feet area of subtidal coastal wetland, and the construction and the new infrastructure would not, “unreasonably harm any significant wildlife habitat, freshwater plant habitat, threatened or endangered plant habitat, aquatic or adjacent upland habitat, travel corridor, freshwater, estuarine or marine fisheries or or aquatic life, provided the the dredging operations are limited to the period between Nov. 8 and April 8.”

    SHM LLC is owned by Safe Harbor Marinas, based in Dallas, Texas. Safe Harbor Marinas, itself, is owned by Sun Communities, Inc., a publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Michigan that invests in manufactured housing and recreational vehicle communities, and now, marinas.

    According to a 2020 news release, Sun Communities, Inc., acquired Safe Harbor Marinas in 2020 for $2.11 billion, saying SHM, “is the largest owner and operator of marinas in the world, operating 101 marinas across 22 states, and was built in partnership with American Infrastructure Funds, Koch Real Estate Investments, Weatherford Capital, and Guggenheim Partners.”

    Most recently, according to the SHM websites, the company acquired Puerto Del Rey, the largest marina in the Caribbean. It is a 140-acre facility that currently has wet slips that can accommodate about 1,000 vessels and dry stack facilities that can accommodate another 750 vessels.

    The BEP appeal

    The purpose of the seven-member BEP, all appointed by the governor, is to provide, "informed, independent and timely decisions on the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the laws relating to environmental protection and to provide for credible, fair and responsible public participation in [DEP]department decisions," according to state statute. 

    Citizens have the right to appeal a DEP licensing decision before the BEP or through a judicial process before Maine’s Superior Court. In this case, the citizens are appealing to the BEP.

    They maintain that the SHM application was incomplete and the state’s environmental agency review of it was insufficient.

    The DEP said in its permit approval that the proposed, “activity will not unreasonably interfere with existing scenic, aesthetic, recreational, or navigational uses.” The project will not, the DEP said, “unreasonably harm” significant wildlife and plant habitat.

    In its order, the DEP acknowledged the receipt of 39 comments from people and entities opposed to the project. Throughout the narrative that it supplied with the permit approval, the DEP cited points raised in those comments, and refuted many of them.

    One person withdrew their opposition after reviewing the application, the DEP said.

    The 16 citizens, however, submitted a 22-page appeal equally skeptical of the DEP’s decision-making. They argue that the project impacts on the scenic view, waterfront access and on the environment are concerning. They also worry about the socio-economic effects on Rockland.

    Each of them, identified as aggrieved parties, submitted statements.

    Steve Cartwright, a resident of Tenants Harbor, said he feels the, “gross expansion of Safe Harbors Marina is all about maximizing corporate profit and is an assault on the intrinsic character and beauty that Rockland Harbor offers to him and other visitors.”

    The appeal said: “Mr. Cartwright believes that this is not representative of the Maine ethic that he supports, nor should it be public policy. In Mr. Cartwright’s view, the city of Rockland has long been a diverse place, open to rich and poor, open to all. He strongly urges that the BEP not to slam the door shut on people who want to gaze out to sea, visit a small public beach, watch the gulls and seals. He urges the BEP not to turn Rockland into an elitist club for the super-wealthy, and their mega-yachts.”

    Safe Harbor Marinas arrived in Rockland in 2020, acquiring Yachting Solutions, a yacht service company, as well as Rockland waterfront real estate originally built and developed by MBNA Bank in the 1990s.

    In July 2017, the federal government had awarded Yachting Solutions a $1.8 million matching grant to expand its existing facility, a project that also is to include the installation of 100 amp and 480V 3-phase power, in-slip fueling, and the conversion of an existing upland gazebo structure into a transient boater's lounge. 

    The 2017 Federal Boating Infrastructure Grants, as administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, support projects that expand docking space in order to serve a greater number of vessels traveling along the Maine coast. The money for those grants are raised through taxes and fees on motorboat fuel and related equipment.

    But the 16 citizens appealing the DEP permit are leery of the specter of a harbor crowded with yachts blocking the scenic view that, “so many now enjoy and even rely on as part of their aesthetic day-to-day practices,” they said.

    The Midcoast 16 are Kenneth Wexler, Steve Cartwright, Nadine and Larry Bangerter, Constance Hayes, Rebecca Glaser, Eileen Fitzgerald, Kyle MacKenzie Swan, Lawrence Coe, Penobscot Bay Watch and Ron Huber, Judy Pasqualge, Virginia Nobile, Avis Turner, Anne “Kinney” Beebe-Center, Susan Beebe, Isabella Veracci and Paul Rosen.

    They argue that the DEP order is based on incomplete and incorrect information.

    The order, they said, lacks explicit direction for the city as to how it will maintain oversight of dock procedures, and thus be at the mercy of private commercial interests.

    They also said the DEP order failed to address marine wildlife concerns, “in any substantive manner, in any manner at all.”

    Rockland Harbor, “is home to, or visited regularly, by osprey, Great Blue herons, Bald eagles, Common loons, harbor seals, sea otters, Common eiders, ad many other marine species and birds,” they said.

    “Having seen other places where oceanside tourism has taken a turn to focus on servicing the very wealthy, Ms. [Judy] Pasqualge believes that this model has widespread side effects — the servicing for the large and mega yacht owners’ needs being quite extensive, very multiple and high-end — and sometimes impacts not now apparent or considered of due importance,” the appeal said.

    They are also skeptical that SHM LLC will keep its section of the Harbor Walk accessible to the public, and that may “prove to be only magical thinking.”

    Penobscot Bay Watch and its director, Ron Huber, advocate for the interests of marine habitat and wildlife.

    “For more than 20 years, PBA has sought to get federal and state environmental agencies to make decisions that allow for responsible coexistence of our human communities with Penobscot Bay fishes, shellfish, plankton, seaweeds, seabirds and other bay life, including tis in and around its tidal river ranges,” the appeal said. 

    Huber said in the appeal that the SHM application and incomplete and the state agency review of the proposal are insufficient.

    While Safe Harbor Marinas has the Army Corps of Engineer permit and the DEP permits, it has yet to submit applications to the City of Rockland for development of facilities on adjacent to the waterfront developments. 

    The BEP meets monthly. Its next meeting is Jan. 20, but this most recent appeal is not on the board’s agenda.

    The appellants have requested that the BEP schedule a hearing so that their objections to SHM’s proposed megayacht expansion in Rockland harbor may be further heard.

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657